Meanwhile, the bureaucrats commission another “study”

Abstract

The failure of the bike share scheme in Brisbane led to calls to exempt it from the helmet law.
The government response was to commission a study to defend its controversial  legislation.
Bureaucrats even edited the “study” in favor of the legislation.
Such “research” should not be misrepresented as science.

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A strange “study”

The failure of the bike share scheme in Brisbane led to calls to to exempt bike share from the helmet law.

A document obtained under the Right to Information legislation (RTI) revealed that the government response was to commission as “study” to defend its controversial helmet law. CARRS-Q was only given 13 days, and paid $35,000 to produce a “study”.

13 days is too short to conduct high-quality research. Thus the “study” is mostly a re-hash of previous studies supporting helmets.

Email correspondance obtained under RTI revealed more shocking findings:

the report was reviewed no fewer than three times by the State Government’s Transport and Main Roads Department before its public release, with some significant changes made to ‘strengthen’ the supposedly academic findings.

Since when does academic research gets edited by the party commissioning it, in favor of its own agenda?

The study press release is full of bold claims, lacking supporting evidence. It dismissed calls to exempt bike share from the helmet law, backing the government agenda.

The government (surprise!) quoted this commissioned “study” to dismiss calls to review the helmet law.

Such use of dubious studies is not new. Governments have commissioned many policy-driven studies since the failure of the helmet law became apparent. Using junk science is not new either among helmet fanatics, as shown in Canada, where various tricks and optimistic assumptions are used to push for a helmet law. 

In another strange example, a helmet fanatic claimed that bike share increased brain injuries when the data in the study showed a significant decrease in head injuries despite an increased number of cyclists. It is quite common for helmet “studies” conducted by helmet fanatics to make claims that are contradicted by their own data from the study.

Where is the evidence?

A close look at the study reveals wide discrepancies between its bold claims and the evidence.  As would be expected from a report produced in a short time, and edited by the bureaucrats commissioning it, it is full of errors, invalid claims and unexplained discrepancies.

The study makes some strange assertions, for example:

the reason they don’t cycle is because it doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle

There is no evidence backing up this statement. This indicates the amount of “research” conducted. Somehow the study ignores that cycling numbers could conservatively double if the helmet law was repealed.

The study attempts to deny that cycling declined after the helmet law. It makes this strange claim:

”In Melbourne adult cyclist numbers doubled after the helmet legislation was introduced”

How this conclusion was reached is a mystery. The quoted source is another policy-driven study. It is difficult to see how such conclusion can be reached, even from the dubious data quoted. Perhaps it is one of the edits from the bureaucrats.

Figure 2 on page 26 of the study reveals that cycling injuries increased after the helmet law, despite a lower number of cyclists. This is consistent with what has been observed in other states. In NSW, the injury rate tripled after the helmet law, due to a strong increase in accidents. 

cycling_inury_rate_following_helmet_law_2

The injury rate tripled after the helmet law

This is hardly an indication of the success of the legislation. Yet that didn’t stop the study authors from claiming that the helmet law had been a success.

A key claim from the study is that exempting bike share from the helmet law would result in increased head injuries. This is based on an old discredited “study” conducted by helmet lobbyists, that claimed that bicycle helmets protect against 85% of head injuries. Since, the researchers have disowned their claim. Why is it used as the foundation for this study then?

The study ignores that helmets tend to increase the risk of accidents, DESPITE the fact that its own data indicates an increase in injuries after the helmet law.

There are so many errors in this study, that would be too long to list. Some of them are described herehere, here, and here for example.

Prophetic statements contradicting the evidence

The study makes strange  prophetic statements, contradicting real-world evidence. For example, this claim:

“Only requiring bicycle helmets to be worn by children or when riding on the road would result in substantial increases in the percentage of riders in crashes who sustain head injuries”

Such claim contradicts the most relevant evidence available. The best evidence we have of what might happen if the helmet law was relaxed is the experience in the Northern Territory.  NT relaxed its helmet law in 1994 and reduced its enforcement.  Since then, the helmet wearing rate is the lowest in Australia, cyclist hospitalisations per capita are the lowest, and cycling to work is 3 times higher than the national average.

The study makes prophetic claims about bike share, also contradicting the available evidence. In London, after 7 million trips, there were no fatalities and only 9 injuries requiring hospitalisation. The serious injury rate is 3 times lower than for all cyclists.

bike_share_LondonBike share is safer than walking. The helmet requirement is irrational.

With its low speed and upright position, bike share is safer that walking.
Why require a helmet?
How can such a counterproductive policy have greater benefits than negative side-effects?

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